Pomp and Poetry


By Lori Cayer

Now, I’ve put on a few poetry readings in my day and I really put my heart into trying to make my events classy and memorable, with fine art and imported poets. However. President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. David T. Barnard, with his “President and the Poet” event at University of Manitoba on this last Wednesday evening, outclassed a lot of weddings I’ve been to. This university president likes, no, loves poetry: he quotes it with more regularity than English majors and he reads it to new hires (imagine them listening and nodding!). In his younger days, he says, he and his (may I say geek) friends would spend weekends reading Paradise Lost in a single sitting. And he especially loves the work of Canadian poet Jan Zwicky whose newest book Forge is currently shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Barnard spoke eloquently in praise of verse, and I found myself feeling a bit like I was in church, a bit like the devout must feel some Sundays when the sermon is hypnotic and perfectly apt, but yet made me feel full of light and energy and in need of bounding from my chair for a pen and paper.

Before Jan read we had time to take in the room where not one aspect of posh had been overlooked. Broad windows overlooked greening trees and hinted at the river behind, the chairs were draped and ribboned in black, the draperies were black, the tall speakers were covered in crinkly black fabric and at the foot of the podium were tall arrangements of fresh flowers. There was a full-on cocktail buffet set up on curving tables decorated with flowers, herbs and carved fruit, there was a beer and wine bar and servers with trays swishing through. Oh, and let’s not forget the violin and cello playing sweetly in the midst. There were fresh flower arrangements, plural, in the tiny bathroom! All of this, and still no poet yet on the stage.

But we were not to be disappointed. Jan was ethereal and serene, that slight church-like feeling persisting in the room. She read from a number of her publications but Forge was foremost in my mind because I had just read it in the preceding twenty-four hours. It is reverent and incantatory poetry filled with sound and music, two of Jan’s passions, but this work is also filled with light and colour. Jan’s first words to us were to remind us we live in the most perfect place in Canada. She lives on an island in BC with those big trees, and mountains and the ocean, and the prairie girl in her was reveling in light. The particular light that nowhere else has. This is out of context of the poem, but it captures the quiet energy of the reading “If the light was like a haze, a mist: if every detail were exact. If it broke you open.”

It was the fanciest poetry reading I’ve ever attended, just lovely. If it was ostentatious in some minds, then so be it. Poetry is ghetto-ized and doesn’t have disposable income: we celebrate ourselves in basements and annexes and bars and lament that we’re the only ones who really care. If one person wanted to make the dream real, if only briefly, if only once, then I’m grateful and glad I got to be there. Let poetry be anointed once in awhile.

Post a Comment

Your email address is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The Readings Report

Lori Cayer

Lori Cayer is the author of two volumes of poetry: Stealing Mercury (Muses’ Company, 2004), and Attenuations of Force (Frontanac House, 2010). She also reads poetry for CV2 magazine.